A couple of columns ago I wrote about two Hurricane pilots who flew in Sussex skies in the vicinity of Lewes during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940.
I have since discovered information about a Spitfire pilot who came down on Lewes Racecourse that same summer.
Trevor Sidney Wade had the nickname “Wimpy”, presumably because he bore a slight resemblance to the US cartoon character of the same name who hung out with Popeye. Or maybe he shared Wimpy’s prodigious appetite?
On 19th August 1940, Wade and a fellow Spitfire pilot jointly “shared” in the destruction of a Luftwaffe Ju 88 fast bomber. Wade’s machine was damaged by return fire and the nearest suitable landing place he could spot was Lewes Racecourse high up on the Downs to the north west of the town. His Spitfire hit the ground hard and overturned, trapping the pilot upside down in the cockpit. Luckily the aircraft did not burst into flames.
Wade recovered from his injuries and returned to combat. In 1941 he was awarded the DFC for having destroyed a total of seven enemy aircraft. He survived the war to become a test pilot on jet aircraft.
In May 1949 he set a new record for the fastest London to Paris flight. Then on 3rd April 1951 he took off in an experimental swept-wing jet fighter, the Hawker P.1081. Just the day before the pilot had returned from a lecture tour in the USA. Once in the air Wade headed for Sussex and it is likely that he intentionally flew over Lewes Racecourse to revisit the scene of his 1940 escapade.
Sadly he wasn’t to be at all as lucky on this day. The jet fighter malfunctioned and Wade lost control. It smashed into land close to the village of Ringmer, killing the pilot instantly. The site was less than three air miles away - just 15 seconds’ flying time - from the scene of his 1940 crash landing.